Diberdayakan oleh Blogger.

Despite 'Healthier' Options, Fast Food Is Still High in Calories

A trip to your local drive-through may present you with more options than you would have had a decade ago. Salads, oatmeal, fruit smoothies – at a glance it’s easy to think that fast food restaurants have upgraded their typical fries and burger fare. However, a closer examination reveals that despite the explosion of ‘healthy’ options, fast food still will not do your waistline any favors.

Katherine W. Bauer of the Temple University Department of Public Health and Center for Obesity Research and Education led a study examining the calorie counts of offerings at eight popular fast food chains. The menu selections and average calorie counts of the last 14 years were tabulated and compared.

This study confirmed the ballooning of fast food menu choices. In 1997, the eight restaurants studied had a combined total of 679 menu items. By 2010 that number had leaped to 1036 items. Much of this increase is accounted for by ‘healthy’ options that include entree salads and sweetened teas.

With the number of healthy options increasing, one would expect that the average calorie count would decrease. However, this is not the case. Bauer’s study found that there was very little noticeable change in the median number of calories in entrees and drinks. The average calorie count in side dishes did decrease from 264 to 219, likely because of limits on size and the addition of more side salads.

Why No Change?

Although an increase in the number of salads and smoothies sounds like an improvement, choosing a salad over a Big Mac will not necessarily reduce your calorie count. The study cites two reasons for this. First, many fast food salads include rich dressings and calorie-dense toppings like cheese and bacon bits. Second, people may not stop at a salad. "You might order a lower-calorie entree, but then you get a drink, fries and a dessert," said Bauer. "Calories can add up very quickly."

Another issue with fast food calorie counts lies not in the menu offerings but in the consumer’s desire to eat. A calorie-dense fast food meal may not be a problem every once in a while, but as a regular part of a person’s diet they can quickly lead to unwanted pounds. A recent study showed that 80% of adults had purchased fast food in the past month and 28% had reported fast food consumption in the past week.

Bauer explains that her study is not meant to discourage people from ever eating fast food. However, diners should take preparation method, portion size and condiments into consideration when making food choices.

Access to Information

Recent changes in US law will require all restaurants with more than 20 locations to display calorie counts on their menus. This leads to an interesting question: will greater access to nutritional information change consumer’s dining habits?

Bauer speculates that being forced to display caloric information may prompt restaurants to change their offerings even more. "Fast food restaurants may modify the calorie content of the foods they sell so consumers can see a smaller number on the menu board," she explains. "The key is for consumers to try to educate themselves about calories and be aware that just because a restaurant promotes healthful options, does not mean that overall the foods sold are lower calorie."

Steps to Take Now

Just because fast food menus are not getting much healthier yet does not mean you have to avoid the drive through completely. Instead, go in with as much knowledge as possible. If calorie counts are not plainly available on the menu board, ask for copies of the restaurant’s nutritional information. You can also find this information online.

Another common trap to avoid when eating fast food is consuming unnecessary calories. The average 20 ounce soda can have over 200 calories – calories that could be eliminated by switching to water. A slice of cheese can add 50 calories to a burger. A packet of salad dressing can have as many calories as the soda you just said no to, as well as a large portion of your daily fat allowance.

While fast food restaurants may not be reducing their calorie counts, being an educated consumer will allow you to make choices that will improve your health.

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

Why You May Want to Try a Gluten-Free Diet

Gluten may be one of the more difficult foods to avoid, as it is such a ubiquitous part of the Western diet. When you think that gluten is found in most bread, pasta, bagels, breakfast cereal and baked goods, it’s not surprising that finding foods that are gluten-free can be tricky. Most processed foods contain some level of gluten, and even beverages such as beer have it (from the fermented barley). Nevertheless, for an increasing number of people, going gluten-free may be worth the effort.

Gluten Intolerance on the Rise

Although the number of people who appear to be sensitive to gluten is increasing, it is not only the gluten-intolerant that are flocking to a gluten-free diet. Some people believe it makes them feel better, others believe it will help them lose weight, and some are convinced they are gluten-sensitive, even though diagnostic tests have shown otherwise. It is estimated that Americans will spend approximately $7 billion this year alone on gluten-free products, and only half of those people will have a true sensitivity to gluten.

Twenty years ago in the US, celiac disease was believed to be a relatively rare condition, as it affected only approximately 1 person in 2,500. Rates in Europe at that time were higher, at approximately 1 in every 300 people, a phenomenon that scientists could not explain. It is now believed that the lower rates in the US were due to an underdiagnosis of the problem.

However, not only has there has been a steep increase in the rate of celiac disease diagnosis (with estimates of it affecting approximately 1 in 130 Americans), due to increasing awareness of the condition, but it also appears that people have indeed become more gluten sensitive since the 1950s. Dr, Joseph Murray and fellow researchers from the Mayo Clinic compared blood samples of people from the 1950s with those of today and found that there has been a fourfold increase in cases of gluten sensitivity over the past 60 years.

What Is Celiac Disease?

Not to be confused with a wheat allergy, which is mostly found in children and is caused by an allergy to wheat protein, celiac disease is currently among the most prevalent chronic diseases that affect countries in the West, particularly those who are of European descent. The disease is due to a gluten allergy, which is a protein that can be found in certain grains, most commonly wheat, rye and barley. The allergic reaction damages small intestine’s lining, which keeps it from being able to absorb nutrients.

Whereas you may not have full-blown celiac disease (in which you have an autoimmune reaction to gluten and increased intestinal permeability), you may be gluten sensitive, a state in which your digestive system reacts badly to gluten, causing such unpleasant symptoms as diarrhea, bloating and abdominal pain. It may also cause symptoms that are seemingly unrelated, such as aching muscles and joints, headaches, depression, irritability and rashes.

Reasons to Try a Gluten-Free Diet

Interestingly, the majority of those following a gluten-free diet are not actually gluten-sensitive. Some people feel that cutting out gluten provides them with more energy and helps in losing weight. Researchers believe that the damage wheat products cause is due to the way the grain has changed over the past decades. Modern wheat has been bred to be shorter and sturdier than the variety grown during our grandparents’ day, but its gluten content has also increased. As so much of the gluten we get in our diet originates from processed foods high in refined flour, cutting these alone out of your diet can contribute to improved health and weight loss.

Untreated gluten intolerance can lead to more serious problems such as celiac disease, infertility, osteoporosis and cancer, so be sure to get checked if you think you may have it. If this is the case, you can ask your doctor to have a gluten tolerance test done. However, be sure to have the test done before beginning any gluten-free diet, as if you wait until after the diet has begun, the doctor will not be able to be certain of a diagnosis, as the antibodies indicating gluten sensitivity will no longer be in your bloodstream.

Following a gluten-free diet may take some advance planning, but it is easier than you may think. More and more products are coming out every day that are gluten-free, and many restaurants now feature gluten-free items on their menu. When cooking at home, try to eat the foods featured in the Mediterranean Diet, including vegetables, poultry and fish, lean meat, beans, nuts, fruit and olive oil. Foods such as potatoes, rice, corn and quinoa can also be eaten and form the basis of many tasty dishes.

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

How to Get Rid of Congested Ears

Having congested ears is a surprisingly unpleasant experience and one that can make you feel somewhat 'detached' from the world around you as you struggle to hear what is going on and as it sounds like you're floating around underwater.
There are many causes of congested ears from trapped water, to ear infections, but regardless of the problem there are some methods you can use to help you speed up recovery. Here we will look at what some of those are.

Warm Compress

Holding a warm compress against your ears can help you to combat any potential pain associated with your congested ears, and at the same time this can also help you to break up any mucus or other blockages with the heat. For this you can use a hot water bottle, or alternatively you can make a 'rice sock'. This is simply a sock that is filled with rice and which you have heated up in the microwave. Hold it against your ear and lower jaw while watching TV or resting.


Using a little oil (such as vegetable oil) mixed with a little warm water if you wish can be a good way to help break up and lubricate the congestion. Use just a couple of tea spoons and drip them carefully into the ears. If you do this for a couple of days you should start to feel it dislodging.

Hair Dryer

Using a hair dryer is something you need to be careful with but it can be useful. Put it on the lowest setting and hold it a good distance away from your ear before turning it on and gently let it blow into your ear.

Ear Decongestant

You can buy over-the-counter medications that are designed specifically for treating congested ears and these include solutions specifically designed to break up and remove the congestion that can block your ears. Most over-the-counter ear drops will serve this role perfectly well.

Note: You may have come across the concept of 'Hopi candles' in your quest to treat your congested ears and in reading about it you might have found that it sounds generally logical and helpful. However, while the science may sound accurate, there is actually no evidence for Hopi candling being at all effective – and in fact it has been shown in many instances to actually make the problem worse as how wax can end up dripping into the ear despite the precautions put in place. Categorize this one under 'health scam' and don't go near it.

In a great number of cases congested ears will clear all by themselves. If they persist however you may wish to see a doctor who will be able to treat any underlying causes such as infection with antibiotics for instance.

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

How Your Body Can Dictate Your Brain and Emotional State

The link between the body and the brain is a complicated two way street and one that many of us don't fully appreciate. Studies into the placebo effect and the existence of psychosomatic illnesses, demonstrate just how powerful the brain is at affecting the body in ways we aren't aware of, but what may surprise you is just how much your body can also impact on your brain. Your body can have an effect on your thinking, on emotional state and on your confidence. Understanding this correlation and knowing how to use it to your advantage, gives you a powerful tool that you can use to take control of your emotions, to gain confidence and to alter the way others perceive you as well. Read on to learn more...

Facial Feedback

One of the most telling illustrations of this process is 'facial feedback'. Facial feedback is a phenomenon, in which the facial expression we pull has been shown to impact on our mood. So while you might assume that you smile because you're happy, the reverse is also true; smilingmakes you happy. This then means that if you find yourself feeling depressed and upset, one of the best things you can do is to force yourself to smile. You won't feel much like it, but after a while you'll find your mood improves.


Looking at someone who is very upset and worked up, you will often notice that they get 'higher' in a number of ways. They'll stand taller, their voice will get more high pitched, and they will become more animated and tense. This of course doesn't look good and will tell other people that they are over excited and possibly not very confident. Furthermore though, it will also cause them to get even more worked up as they get themselves in a flap (that's pretty much how panic attacks happen).
If you find yourself getting tense and agitated then, something that can help is to try 'grounding' yourself. Breathe more deeply and in a more controlled manner, relax your shoulders, and try to slow everything down a little. This will make you look a lot more confident instantly, and as a result you will also feel more confident and relaxed. Control your body, and you can make yourself cool in a crisis.


Changing your posture is a method that we all know for improving confidence, but it's surprising just how effective it can be. If you are standing with your shoulders slumped, looking down and your arms practically dragging on the floor, then you won't make much of an impact on the people you speak to and you won't feel particularly good about yourself either.
Instead then, puff out your chest, stand taller and gently tense your muscles. Being taller than other people will instantly make you feel like you have an advantage, whereas the heroic pose will be beneficial due to associations that it carries for all of us. Then there's the fact that looking up can make us feel more positive, which in turn can impact on our confidence.


Many things have been shown to improve creativity and this includes altering your posture. According to research, a quick way to make yourself more creative and to come up with more good ideas, is to simply try lying down. Any 'supine position' (that means reclined) will apparently help you to be more creative, possibly because we're more creative when we are relaxed. Also helpful is to try and shut out external stimuli, so if you need to come up with a good idea fast, try lying back and closing your eyes for a few minutes (but don't go to sleep! =).

Energy and Mood

Of course your body ties in with your energy in all kinds of ways and this can have knock on effects on your mood, productivity and efficiency. If you are feeling down in the dumps and failing to motivate yourself then, one of the best things you can do is to exercise which will result in the release of 'happiness hormones' like endorphins and dopamine and which will get the blood circulating better around your body. If you want to exercise right now but don't have the motivation to head to the gym, try jumping up and down on the spot for a bit and swinging your arms. It will be the last thing you want to do, but as soon as you've done it you'll find you have more energy for a full workout. This is also a great way to psyche yourself up if you are about to go into an interview or give a talk.

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

Health Benefits of Chilli Peppers

Chilli peppers might not immediately strike you as being healthy when you first eat one. Indeed they’ll probably more than a small burning sensation in your mouth and stomach, and if you’re not a fan of ‘spicy food’ this might feel a little bit like ingesting poison at first.

However despite first impressions, the good news for curry lovers is that chilli peppers actually do have a number of useful health benefits. Here we will look at a few of them, and hopefully you’ll find that next time they go down a little smoother.

Heart Rate and Metabolism

Eating chilli peppers can feel like an ordeal, and it seems like our heart feels the same way – speeding up its beats per minute and raising our metabolism as a result. The good news is that this then can help to strengthenour heart over time (being a muscle, it benefits from being pushed mildly) and at the same time help to burn fat and deliver more nutrients around our body.

Blood Pressure

In the short term then, chilli peppers will raise your heart rate and so your blood pressure might increase. However over a longer period chilli will actually reduce your blood pressure thanks to the inclusion of vitamin A and C and riboflavinoids which all help to improve blood pressure.

Fights Inflammation

Chillies are high in a substance called capsaicin, which has many benefits including the ability to prevent inflammation.

Lowers Blood Sugar

Apparently chilli stimulates the release of insulin and is thus able to reduce blood sugar following a meal. The exact way that this works is not yet fully understood, but it may be of interest to diabetics who could benefit from using more in their cooking.

Muscle Relaxant

Several studies have suggested that chillies can be used as a muscle relaxant and help us to relax in the evening – and many of us will know from experience that chillies can leave us feeling very ‘chilled out’. Even more impressively, capsaicin can block a chemical known as ‘substance P’ which is connected to the perception of pain – so it may also be a useful anaesthetic.


Chilli contains antioxidants which combat free radicals in the body and so protect the cells from avoidable damage. At the same time though, chillies are particularly useful for combating prostate cancer again through the inclusion of the neuropeptide found in capsaicin, which has been shown to trigger the spontaneous death of prostate cancer cells and significantly slow the development of tumours.

At the same time chillies can potentially help to prevent stomach cancer – and several studies have shown a link between higher rates of chilli consumption and lower rates of stomach cancer. However the jury is still out as other studies have actually had opposite results...


We all know that our nose runs after eating chillies and hot food, and this is very useful if you happen to have a cold helping to dislodge and break up any congestion.

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

The Things That Shape Who You Are – Surprising Factors That Influence Personality

What made you who you are today? It's a combination of genetics and upbringing right? (Anyone who said 'star sign' can leave right now…) And presumably that upbringing was mostly to do with the way your parents and teachers taught you to behave. And possibly a few key life events that helped you to form your opinions and personality…

Well yes, that's all true, but what you might be surprised about is just how many different things went into forming your personality, and just how sensitive your personality was to change when you were still developing. Read on to be amazed by some of the things that influenced your personality and made you into the person you are now.

Birth Order: Countless studies have demonstrated that birth order can impact on your personality. First born children are more likely to be bossy and responsible, while last-born children are more likely to be impulsive. One study has even shown that our choice of partner can be affected by birth order – and that we're more likely to date people born in the same 'position' as us.

Age: Your age can affect your personality too in ways you might not expect. While the larger overarching aspects of our personality are likely to remain relatively stable throughout our lifetime, other traits tend to change in a largely predictable fashion as we age. Our emotional stability and sense of responsibility tend to be at an all-time high when we are in our 40s-60s, while our eagerness for novel experiences tends to drop as we get older.

Life Events: A life event such as the loss of a loved one or even a change in career can often have profound impacts on our psychology and even result in our personalities changing. Going through a serious trauma for instance can often make people more adverse to risks and more anxious, and can even result in personality disorders and other psychological conditions. OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) for instance is common following the loss of a loved one.

Date of Birth: Earlier I made a little dig at horoscopes (apologies for anyone offended), but actually there is some scientific evidence for our date of birth affecting our eventual adult personality. This has nothing to do with ruling planets however – instead it's a result of social factors such as your age going into school. Children born in September for instance are statistically more likely to be high-achievers as they will go through school being more developed and mature than their classmates. This will give them the cognitive and physical advantage for many activities, in result giving them a boost in self-esteem and a good head start.

Likewise date of birth can affect many other experiences we have throughout our lives – such as the time we learn to drive as compared with our peers, and even the activities we enjoy on our birthdays.

Intelligence: Intelligence is not considered a personality trait, but is linked closely with personality. Generally highly intelligent individuals are considered more likely to adjust well to their environments and to excel academically while being less likely to get mixed up in the wrong crowds.

On the other hand though, high IQs can lead to some less desirable traits. Those with high IQs for instance are more likely to experience certain types of depression (such as 'existential depression') and are more likely to be high in impulsivity and risk-taking behaviour. Those with particularly high IQs might also feel 'odd' compared to their peers and lonely when growing up.

Nervous System: We all know that biology plays a part in our personality development, but that doesn't just refer to brain chemistry and composition. At the same time, our nervous system and our hormones can also play a role in defining who we are and things such as your metabolism and heart-rate can directly make us more anxious or more calm among other things.

Diet: Among the things that cause us to behave the way we do are of course our hormones. If you produce a lot of testosterone then you are more likely to be an angry and determined character, while you'll probably be a lot more happy-go-lucky if you produce a lot of dopamine and serotonin (happiness hormones). In turn these hormones are caused by a number of things, but one of the

Appearance: It should come as no surprise that appearance can shape personality. The old theory that we're more likely to rely on our looks if we're very attractive at the expense of developing other traits is one that does hold water in the research – and of course lots of positive attention is going to help with your overall confidence.

Name: Even your name can change your personality as you grow up – so perhaps a rose by any other name would not smell so sweet? This is due to a number of different factors, but principally it alters the way that others see us and the way that we see ourselves even. Names have many connotations, based on the media, on history and even on the sounds of the letters. Some theorists believe that all of us have a type of 'synaesthesia' that causes us to associate certain sounds with particular colours, feelings and shapes and that this could have provided the basis for language development. Someone with a 'harsh' sounding name for instance might be perceived as a harsher and sterner character, and by being treated as such they might grow to become that person. If only Hitler had been called 'Cuddles'… Parents, take note!

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

The Straight Truth About Keratin and Other Hair Smoothing Treatments

Eight months after Oregon's Occupational Safety and Health Division (known as Oregon OSHA) released an alarming report about the levels of formaldehyde found in several salon hair-smoothing treatments, these frizz-fighting services are still widely available—and in demand. As the humidity starts to climb, here's what you should know before having any treatment that claims to leave your hair silky for months.

Fact: Formaldehyde is toxic.
The chemical can cause immediate, short-term irritation of the eyes, skin, and upper respiratory tract. The longer-term risks of exposure are more troubling: The Environmental Protection Agency and federal OSHA classify formaldehyde as a suspected human carcinogen because of its links to nasal cancer and leukemia; the International Agency for Research on Cancer considers it a known human carcinogen. "I would not recommend use of any product containing formaldehyde," says Martyn Smith, PhD, a toxicologist at the University of California at Berkeley. "All products containing it should be banned." 

Fact: Hair treatments are unregulated.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review, a panel of scientists that recommends safety standards in cosmetics, advises that beauty products should contain no more than 0.2 percent formaldehyde (most nail polish manufacturers have removed formaldehyde from their formulas)—and that those products should not be aerosolized (as hair-smoothing treatments are). But since no health agency regulates ingredients in cosmetics, the onus is on manufacturers to introduce safe products, and sometimes they don't: When Oregon OSHA tested more than 100 samples of various salon hair-smoothing products (after receiving stylists' reports of breathing problems, nosebleeds, and eye irritation), they found some of the highest levels of formaldehyde—almost 12 percent—in a Brazilian Blowout formula that was labeled "formaldehyde-free." Numerous other products had formaldehyde concentrations of anywhere from 1 to 7 percent. The FDA says it's in the process of investigating Brazilian Blowout "and similar products." 

Fact: It's unlikely these treatments could live up to their claims without formaldehyde.
Many companies say their product eradicates frizz (for up to five months) with only keratin, amino acids, or "proprietary conditioners." But none of these ingredients alone can keep hair frizz-free through multiple shampoos. That's why formulas also include ingredients (like methylene glycol or formalin) that become formaldehyde gas when heated or dried. After the hair is thoroughly saturated with one of these solutions, it's dried and flatironed; the process releases the formaldehyde, which bonds the conditioners to the hair so it remains smooth for months. Over time, the bonds dissolve and the hair's natural texture gradually returns. Several new salon services have launched this year that claim to be (really, truly!) formaldehyde-free; if this is the case, it's unclear how they will keep hair smooth for as long as they claim (at least six weeks, and up to four months). 

Buyer Beware: Some at-home 30-day hair-smoothing kits (like Liquid Keratin and Organix Brazilian Keratin Therapy) use biformyl, also known as ethandial and glyoxal, to bond conditioners to the hair. This aldehyde is not classified as a carcinogen, but it has significant toxicological concerns, including skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritation.

The bottom line: The only way to guarantee that you're not getting a hair-smoothing treatment that could expose you to unacceptable levels of formaldehyde not get the treatment.

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

5 Mistakes Coffee Drinkers Make

1. Not Realizing That Coffee's Power Over Women Waxes and Wanes

What you do: You get the same-size brew every day of the month. 

How it affects you: Hormonal fluctuations can slow down caffeine metabolism, explains James D. Lane, PhD, a professor of medical psychology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, and a longtime caffeine researcher. This is why women who are pregnant (most docs agree that a cup a day is fine during pregnancy) or taking estrogen-containing contraceptives may feel like a little caffeine goes an extra-long way. Lane's studies have also shown that the process is slightly slower during the times of the menstrual cycle when estrogen is highest. 

What to try: Try a smaller size cup during the late luteal phase of your cycle (or when you usually experience PMS) to see if it makes any difference in how you feel and how you sleep. 

2. Using It to Replace Cigarettes

What you do: After finally giving up smoking, your French press becomes your new best friend. 

How it affects you: Lane says that smoking is one of the few things that can slightly blunt a caffeine buzz. He explains that the chemical by-products of tobacco kick the liver into high gear, which spurs it to metabolize caffeine faster. Because of that, research has shown that smokers have a higher caffeine tolerance and need three to four times more than non-smokers to get the same perk-up effects. 

What to try: When smokers decide to quit, it's important they realize that the same amount of coffee they usually drink could make them feel agitated, irritable and extra-jittery—not a welcome state at any time, but especially when trying to stick to a tough resolution. 

3. Drinking It Too the Morning

What you do: You follow the medical recommendations to finish your mug before 11 a.m. 

How it affects you: New research shows that some people have a gene that causes them to metabolize caffeine quickly, while others can take two or three times as long, says Lane. This means that if you're one of those people who are genetically predisposed to be very sensitive to caffeine, the 8-ounce cup you drink in the morning might not be completely out of your system until after your bedtime. 

What to try: There isn't an accessible genetic test to find out which kind of coffee metabolizer you are. But if you're doing everything else the sleep docs tell you to do and you're still finding it hard to nod off, make sure you don't have any caffeine for at least 12 hours before you go to bed. (You can track your caffeine consumption using an app like Caffeine Zone 2 Lite) 

What to do if you drank too much coffee

4. Trying to Sweat It Out

What you do: You have one refill too many, so you go for a run to get the caffeine out of your system. (Or you try to soak it up with starchy food. Or you drink tons of water in an attempt to, well, flush it out.) 

How it affects you: Caffeine molecules circulate through your bloodstream and are eventually broken down by the liver into an inactive form that's then excreted through the kidneys. Experts say there isn't anything you can do to speed up the process once it's already begun. 

What to try: Caffeine exaggerates your response to stress, says Lane. This means that regulating your emotions will make you much less likely to have a full-blown caffeine-induced freakout. When you start to feel agitated, Lane suggests going into a quiet room (or putting on noise-blocking headphones) and doing the things that you would typically do to de-stress: meditate, perform a few sun salutations, practice deep breathing. 

5. Thinking Espresso Is for Die-Hards Only

What you do: You shy away from espresso because you think the extra caffeine will make you feel wired. 

How it affects you: Espresso packs a concentrated punch of caffeine—but that's why it's served in tiny cups. So a standard shot of espresso actually has significantly less caffeine than an 8-ounce cup of regular Starbucks brew (75 mg vs. 180 mg). Studies show that the sweet spot of caffeine is between 100 mg and around 400 mg—more than that, and you will find yourself climbing the walls. 

What to try: An espresso can be a convenient alternative to an easy-to-spill mug for days when you need a fast fix. 

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

6 Easy Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure

Pop quiz: What's your blood pressure? If you don't know, you could be among the 78 million American adults who have hypertension. That's not a group you want to belong to: High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke and a major contributor to heart disease. I urge every woman to start tracking her BP now—and that includes young adults; a study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that 19 percent of people ages 24 to 32 had dangerously elevated blood pressure levels. (See the box at right for what's ideal and what's not.) The good news: You can control high BP. Overwhelming research has demonstrated that easy, natural methods for lowering blood pressure really work, and that even small reductions can significantly lower your cardiovascular risk. 

Start by incorporating these six habits into your daily life

Get a Grip

The American Heart Association recently reported that simple hand grip exercises may help lower BP by as much as 10 percent. It doesn't take much time to see results: Gripping and releasing a small rubber ball 2 minutes at a time, for up to 15 minutes, three days a week for eight to 12 weeks, can lead to improvements. According to a separate report, the benefits to blood pressure may be greater than those seen with resistance training. Although researchers don't fully understand why this action has such favorable effects, they believe the repetitive motion may improve blood vessel elasticity.

Find Time for Fido

Nothing beats relaxing with my black Lab, Rosie. And the blood-pressure-reducing power of pets has been frequently documented: One study of more than 5,000 people revealed that pet owners had significantly lower systolic blood pressure than the petless, even when owners and nonowners had an almost identical body mass index. The presence of pets may help even when you're in a stressful situation: A study in Psychosomatic Medicine found that when people were asked to complete challenging math problems, those with a pet by their side had smaller spikes in blood pressure—and performed better.

Beet It

A glass of beet juice a day could keep the heart doctor away. A 2013 study showed that drinking eight ounces of beet juice could lower a person's systolic blood pressure by an average of 10.5 points within 24 hours—only a few points lower than the reduction found with some blood pressure meds. Beets contain high levels of nitrate, which the body converts to nitric oxide. In turn, nitric oxide helps improve blood flow.

Pack in Potassium

Countering the effects of salt in your diet, this mineral helps flush sodium out of your system and, as a result, relaxes the walls of your blood vessels. A surprising source of potassium: raisins. A small 2012 study revealed that snacking on a handful of the dried fruit three times a day for 12 weeks lowered pre-hypertensive participants' systolic blood pressure by an average of 4.8 percent.

Breathe Deeply

When people who weren't taking medication for their hypertension practiced deep breathing (six breaths in 30 seconds), they reduced their systolic blood pressure by an average of 9 points for a short period of time, according to a study in Hypertension Research. But scientists think long-term reductions may be possible if you practice it regularly for weeks or months. (Controlled breathing may engage the calming parasympathetic nervous system, which can reduce your heart rate and nudge your blood pressure down.) Start by placing one hand on your belly and inhaling deeply, breathing in until you see your lower belly rise. Then breathe out slowly. Repeat until 30 seconds is up.

Lace Up Your Walking Shoes

Getting your heart pumping is a proven way to lower BP, but new research shows that you don't have to go all out to achieve benefits. A 2013 study compared more than 48,000 people in the National Runners' and National Walkers' health studies, and found that walking 30 to 60 minutes a day led to a 19 percent reduction in hypertension risk—roughly the same result among people who ran 15 to 30 minutes.

DIY Blood Pressure Screening: Read It Right!

These days anyone can measure her BP with a blood pressure cuff and a smartphone. And if going to the doctor seems to make your heart rate jump, you may get more accurate numbers on your own; in one study, women's systolic blood pressure was, on average, 13.5 points higher at the doctor's office. To get the most reliable numbers every time, keep these three rules in mind. 

For precise readings, once a month at the same time of the day, measure your blood pressure three times in a row and take the average of those numbers. (Shoot for the time when you're most relaxed.) Fluctuations in BP throughout the day are normal, and consistency will help ensure accuracy. 

Don't drink coffee before taking a reading. Studies show that caffeine can temporarily boost your numbers by 3 to 15 points. 

Wait 30 minutes after exercising to give your BP a chance to stabilize. During vigorous exercise, systolic blood pressure can shoot up as high as 220 mm Hg.

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS

3 Metals That Might Cause Memory Problems

The exact causes of Alzheimer's disease are still unknown, but experts have identified a host of contributing factors: diabetes, smoking, saturated fats. Now a theory points the finger in a different direction: a variety of metals that can build up in the body over time. Look inside the brains of people with Alzheimer's who have died and you'll find protein clogging the brain's signaling system, along with tiny clusters called beta-amyloid plaques. "When researchers tease those plaques apart, they find metals, including iron, copper, and aluminum," says Neal Barnard, MD, an adjunct associate professor of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine. "These metals produce free radicals, which are like little sparks that damage brain cells." And dementia isn't the only risk; metals have been linked to everyday mental fuzziness: A study of roughly 1,450 adults in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging found that women who performed highest on cognition tests had the lowest levels of copper and iron in their blood. But you needn't let metals meddle with your noggin: A few simple swaps can help shield your brain and protect your memory. 


It's the fuel that allows red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body. But when it comes to brain health, a 2011 study in the journal Neurology showed that people with high hemoglobin (an indicator of iron levels) were more than three times as likely to develop Alzheimer's as those with levels in a healthy range. 

Get smart: Go easy on meat—it's loaded with easily absorbable heme iron, which your body can't regulate well. Dark leafy greens can help you meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for iron (18 mg for women ages 19 to 50; 8 mg for women 50+). They're also rich in antioxidants that "bind to iron so it can't cause as much damage," says UCLA psychiatry professor George Bartzokis, MD. 

Quick fix: Swap out your cast-iron pans for stainless steel. One study found that the iron content of spaghetti sauce increased more than nine times after being cooked in a cast-iron skillet. 


The aluminum-Alzheimer's link remains hotly contested, but most experts agree that the metal can be a neurotoxin. Although our bodies don't need aluminum to function, it seeps in through antacids ("they can deliver a hundred times more aluminum than you'd get from a day's worth of food," Barnard says); soda cans, which can leach aluminum; and tap water (aluminum can be introduced during purification). In one British study, people with high levels of aluminum in their tap water had a 50 percent increased risk for Alzheimer's compared to those with the least exposure. 

Get smart: Call your local water supplier and ask for the aluminum level. "If your city's range is anything higher than undetectable, install an under-sink filter," Barnard says. 

Quick fix: Store your leftovers in glass; acidic foods like pizza or pasta sauce can absorb aluminum from foil. 


Dietary copper (in foods like shellfish, nuts, and beans) is generally safe. But inorganic copper—the type in multivitamins and tap water—largely bypasses the liver's filtration system and heads directly to the blood and brain. It's especially dangerous when combined with saturated and trans fats: Research has found that individuals whose high-fat diets included 1.6 or more mg of copper a day experienced a loss of mental function equivalent to an extra 19 years of aging, compared with those who took in an average of 0.9 mg a day. 

Get smart: Check your pipes. If you have copper plumbing, let the water run for a minute in the morning before drinking from the tap, to flush out any copper that may have built up overnight. 

Quick fix: Choose a supplement with no more than 0.9 mg of copper—the average women's multivitamin contains more than double that. 

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS